Live Review: Journey, Foreigner, and Night Ranger Steal the Spotlight in Vegas

Published on October 16th, 2011

October 8, 2011 – On any given night, there are hundreds of shows to be seen on the expansive and expensive Las Vegas Strip. But this past Saturday night, there was one show that turned heads and left hoards more stammered than jackpot winners. This shock and awe could only mean one thing – Journey, Foreigner and Night Ranger were in town.

Ripping into the MGM Grand Garden Arena with white hot lights and even hotter energy, the trio took fans on a thrill ride that set a new precedent for maximum rock and roll.

When you throw three bands like this into one night of entertainment, it’s clear your concert packing list should include an air guitar. Just think in your head for a moment about all the masterful riffs and guitar solos of Journey, add in the unmistakable Foreigner hooks, Night Ranger’s wild tremolo antics, and well, you get the picture.

Along with the quintessential air drums that must not be forgotten, plenty of fans did bring their air guitar to MGM Grand’s massive arena. They also wore their band t-shirts and came with their singing voices. With Night Ranger on first, this crowd was strapped in for a trip down 1980s memory lane, with a few surprises.

The lights go down and there’s a spotlight on dueling guitarists Brad Gillis and Joel Hoekstra.

But wait, the song doesn’t sound familiar at all. Their frantic playing breaks into a steady, driving riff. Jack Blades bolts out of nowhere to his microphone stand to belt out lyrics fresh off their 2011 album.

Forget memory lane, this is new and smoldering Night Ranger. Now that’s how Blades and the boys start a rock show.

Next he traded vocal duties to drummer Kelly Keagy for a familiar “Sing Me Away” while Gillis and Hoekstra launched into an all-out guitar war while Blades ran amok on stage. If you’re ever looking to watch Night Ranger in their prime, 1985′s “Seven Wishes Live” is the video to see – they can’t hold still for a single second as they tear it up with hit after hit. But to be quite honest, this show wasn’t much different. Even Jack Blades’ hair is the exact same.

They were given 40 minutes to wow the crowd, and took this job seriously. Every song brought to mind a mastery of creative guitar melodies that few other bands have ever been able to replicate.

When a powerhouse like Foreigner is about to start their rock assault, there should be a warning message displayed for all fans to see: “You are about to be subjected to dangerous levels of adrenaline”. Or at the very least, a waiver for everyone to sign. But yet again, in Las Vegas no one heeds this warning and the band emerges to the blaring guitar and whirring keyboards of “Double Vision”. The mere prod of Jeff Pilson’s bass is surely enough to throw dozens into Foreigner fever.

Kelly Hansen, the hyperbole of vocalizing, dives down to his microphone stand and makes it a servant to his screams. Michael Bluestein mans a dual keyboard, Mark Schulman commands the drums, and Tommy Gimbel is absolutely jacked as he trades keyboard for sax for rhythm guitar. On top of all that, the lighting and stage configuration takes you to a deleted scene from the TRON movie. There’s nothing this band is missing, except Jeff Bridges.

But on a more serious note, the band is missing its founding member Mick Jones. An unnamed illness has kept Jones off the road for more than a month, leaving lead guitar duties to a very capable Bruce Watson as fans hope for a speedy recovery for their original Jukebox Hero. Watson has each solo perfected and is clearly having the time of his life with the rest of the gang.

Foreigner may have been an opener, but they behaved like a headliner. Hansen did his usual crowd dive during “Cold As Ice”, but then surprised fans by doing an entire lap around the floor seats later in the show. When not wailing on “Urgent”, he was giving a tambourine the shaking of its existence. His abilities as a frontman are nothing short of stunning.

Circling back to “Urgent” for a moment, the song seems to have an added futuristic-sounding bass keyboard hook. Either the MGM Grand’s acoustics have revealed a new element of the song or Michael Bluestein has been watching the TRON movies. Whatever the case, it was excellent.

Had an announcement came after the two openers telling everyone the show was over and to get “back to the tables”, there really couldn’t have been many complaints. They had given everyone more than their money’s worth. But still ahead was the culmination of all anticipation – the legends themselves. Journey.

Let’s just get a one thing straight about this band. First, we all know a Journey tour is only put together so Neal Schon can show off his latest mindblowing guitar solo. OK, that might be an exaggeration.

Spoiler alert for Schon fans: Neal debuts not one, but two mindblowing guitar solos on this tour. Call it a double whammy. The second solo involves blowing, shaking, knocking, and maybe even talking to the guitar to make some of the coolest sounds you’ve ever heard. If anyone can speak to a guitar, it’s Neal Schon.

Journey is ready to go on stage. Schon emerges, spicy red guitar in hand and shirt to match. He gives the audience a solid minute of instrumental entertainment before a blue-velvet wearing Arnel Pineda cuts over to his mic stand and Jonathan Cain taps the keys. “Separate Ways” it is.

There is a lot of history for the five musicians of Journey to live up to. They made a name for themselves as one of the greatest live bands in the world in the 1970s and ’80s with Steve Perry’s vocal acrobatics, and even their last tour with a brand new vocalist was universally praised as a return to form. So what does Journey in 2011 do after taking a year off from the road? They put together an amped up set of songs and deliver it with every ounce of power they’ve got, all in the middle of their most majestic lighting rig ever.

What could make hearing songs from their seminal album Frontiers better? How about the blue alien head from the album cover illuminated on a dozen different screens surrounding the band. It’s a Journey fan paradise.

Alongside the hits, there was a new song – “City of Hope”. It’s lifted from their latest album Eclipse, which both follows 2008′s platinum selling Revelation and continues their long tradition of albums with one mysterious word for a title and one cool looking scarab on the front. It just might be their heaviest album yet, although the radio friendly City of Hope was a bit deceiving.

For “Open Arms”, piano wonder Jonathan Cain figured out yet another way to introduce the song with an unpredictable solo. But “Wheel in the Sky” presented the biggest jam of the night, prompting Cain to break out his harmonica and let it rip. Arnel was on fire throughout, reaching spectacular high notes as he covered every square inch of the stage.

Although there were few disappointments in their set, the lack of a solo vocal from Deen Castronovo was one of them. But make no mistake, the drummer could still be heard in the background almost like the ghost of Steve Perry, filling in when required.

A word that comes to mind when thinking about Las Vegas is excess. There are more casinos, fountains, and grandeur than there needs to be, and it’s simply for enjoyment. Journey, Foreigner, and Night Ranger take a similar approach to their live show. They could just play the required hits and fulfill the audience’s expectations, but instead they exceed them by creating three and a half hours of thrilling rock and roll that never lets go. There were even confetti cannons firing for the end of Journey’s performance. That’s excess, rock style.




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